Skip to content

The West MI Policy Forum’s ongoing war against the public sector

November 12, 2017

The West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) has only been around since 2008, yet its impact has been tremendous in terms of influencing state policy that attacks working people and benefits the capitalist class.

A creation of the of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the has used its lobbying power over the past decade to promote neoliberal economic policies and austerity measures. The WMPF has been relentless in its war on working people, public sector employees, unions, public education and the privatization of government.

Since their founding, the WMPF has reduced the business tax in Michigan, pushed through Right to Work legislation, further privatized public education, diminished the power of local governments and taken away public teacher pensions.

Now the WMPF wants to eliminate public sector employee pensions, pensions that government employees fought for decades ago and pensions that those same employees are hoping to retire on.

Recently, the WMPF posted this message on their Facebook page. It states, “81 of 83 counties in Michigan have at least one local unit of government with a pension or other post-employment benefit plan that is less than 60 percent funded, the level typically considered critically underfunded.”

The Facebook post included a link to an article from MI Tech News. In that article, Anthony Randazzo is quoted as saying:

“This widespread problem with unfunded liabilities means that more and more revenue from today’s taxpayers is being consumed to cover these obligations, crowding out the ability for local governments to fund basic services, ensure police and fire departments are fully staffed, pay for road improvements, and provide public goods such as libraries and parks.”

In other words, what Randazzo is saying, is that public sector employee pensions are a burden on taxpayers and should be done away with.

Included within the article is a website, https://unfundedmichigan.org/, which provides data on each county in Michigan as it relates to the local government entities and where they stand on public sector employee benefits, specifically pensions. You can search each county, by clicking on the county for added data. Here is what the website is claiming in terms of the governments within Kent County and where they stand on pensions.

The website, https://unfundedmichigan.org/, is run by the Pension Integrity Project, which is part of the Reason Foundation. The Reason Foundation website states that their organization, advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.” The organization’s board of trustees is made up of folks from the financial sector, including David Koch, one of the infamous Koch brothers, that has been engaging in a war on the public sector for decades. 

According to Source Watch, the Reason Foundation is intertwined with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)  and the State Policy Network, which includes groups like the Acton Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Reason Foundation was also one of the 32 organizations linked to the Fossil Fuel industry that was named in 2016 as one of the groups denying climate change

Thus, it seems clear that the West Michigan Policy Forum needs to be exposed for who they really are, but they need to be actively resisted for promoting policy that attacks the public sector and makes the private sector all that more powerful.

Movimiento Cosecha GR kick’s off their Boycott Turkey Campaign

November 2, 2017

Last night, in front of the downtown branch of the Grand Rapids Library, the Grand Rapids chapter of Movimiento Cosecha kicked off its campaign to boycott Turkey and turkey products through the rest of the year.

The campaign began with Erica (pictured on the left above) talking about her experience working at Michigan Turkey, which has 2 poultry processing plants in the Greater Grand Rapids area. She said that after working on the processing line, where her job always involved pulling, she been to experience pain in her one hand.

The very next day, her supervisor notice that there was some discoloration in her hand and asked her what was wrong. Fearing that she would lose her job, she said it was nothing. The next day, she was asked to train someone to do what she did and then the supervisor asked her to sign a document saying she was quitting. She refused, but the supervisor said their was nothing he could do, so even though she did not sign, she was still fired.

After Erica shared her story, Gema Lowe with Movimiento Cosecha GR spoke about her own story as an immigrant working in Michigan. She stated:

My name is Gema and I immigrated to the Grand Rapids area more than 20 years ago. In all these years, I have worked in several jobs, almost all in factories where most of the workers were also immigrants. It was not until something drastic happened in my life and I suffered an accident at work that left me unable to work, and as a result I lost my home and most of the things that I was able to have with all my years of work. It was then that I understood the many abuses that immigrants suffer and how these companies take advantage of the fear that immigrants have of being deported so that they can pay low wages and not to provide the benefits and protections that workers have, such us workers compensation.

At this point Gema then talked about the power that immigrants have, considering the fact that if most immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants went on strike, the country would be deeply impacted. This is especially the case in the food industry, where most migrant labor is done by immigrants, as well as the slaughterhouse industry.

Gema then stated:

Right now in the poultry industry there is exploitation of immigrant hands where they are denied their most basic rights and needs such as going to the bathroom. The production line is constantly producing more than one bird per second and the workers are not replaced in their work stations so they have reached the point that they have to go to work wearing adult diapers because they are being exploited and violated on their rights.

Recognizing that all the food that is on our tables during these end of the year festivities has been cultivated, harvested and processed by immigrant hands, we invite you to make the sacrifice of not eating turkey to honor the work of immigrant workers and we invite, when you are together with your families at the Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas or New Year to remember that our immigrant brothers and sisters whose families may not be together because they have been separated and won’t be able to celebrate because their family members have been deported.

Movimiento Cosecha GR is call for a boycott of all turkey and turkey products to demonstrated their economic power until their demands are met. Those demands include – Respect, Dignity and the Permanent Protection of all Immigrants, regardless of their status.

The boycott campaign will include many other activities over the next few months, but for those who want to get involved, please contact Movimiento Cosecha GR by going to their Facebook page

Below is a flyer they will be distributing in English and Spanish to inform people about the boycott and their movement for immigrant justice.

 

The West MI Power Structure is gearing up for 2018 Election with their money

November 1, 2017

Yesterday, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network posted an article looking at the organizations and families contributing the most money (as of Oct 20, 2017) to the 2018 elections at the state level in Michigan.

The data compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network looks specifically at the campaign contributions that are being funneled through the House Democratic Fund, the Senate Democratic Fund, the House Republican Campaign Committee and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee.

They list several of the members of the West MI Power Structure as major contributors and we decided to to the campaign contributions to date for the state level together, with images and a brief list of some of the other groups these people are involved with in West Michigan. The groups they are involved in not only influence state policy, they influence the economic and political realities in West Michigan.

 

Honoring the passing of a Warrior: An Interview with Dennis Banks (2009)

October 31, 2017

In light of the passing of AIM activist Dennis Banks, we wanted to honor him with re-posting an interview we conducted with him in 2009.

In this 4 part interview, Dennis talks about his own experience of being taken from his community by force and put into a boarding school, his involvement with the American Indian Movement, the siege at Wounded Knee and the future of Indigenous resistance. Dennis said in the 4th interview, “the US is headed in the direction of creating another Wounded Knee” and that future attacks on Indigenous people’s will focus on water and water rights. The ongoing struggle at Standing Rock confirms those two points.

 

 

 

 

 

Does it have to be bus driver union contracts vs the Transit Millage?: Organizing Movements for more than either or outcomes

October 30, 2017

A few weeks ago, we posted a brief article highlighting some of the tension between the ATU (bus drivers union) and the group Equity PAC. 

The ATU has been working without a contract for 2 years and will likely advocate for people to not support the bus millage as long as they are working without a contract. Equity PAC disagrees with the ATU tactic and believes that the union should put riders, particularly those most marginalized, first on this issue.

Last Tuesday, over 50 people spoke during the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting and most of them were advocating for an Equal Services policy to be adopted by the city, which would make it so city employees (including police) NOT ask people about their immigration status. However, what was interesting about those who spoke, is that most of them were also advocating for the city to push for a fair contract resolution for the bus driver’s union.

This was a powerful display of solidarity, because immigrants, union members and allies  came together to make the statement, “immigrant rights are workers rights!”

This relationship between the ATU and Movimiento Cosecha GR, did not come out of nowhere. Since the early part of 2017, bus drivers and their allies have been participating in marches, strikes and boycotts that Movimiento Cosehca GR has been organizing. This growing relationship was evident at the City Commission meeting on Tuesday night, especially for those who have been following each groups struggle in recent years.

The solidarity between these two groups demonstrated that they not only could work together, but they could walk together on the journey to justice and collective liberation.

Short Term and Long Term strategies for Movement Building

In terms of the Millage Vote, which will be determined on November 7, there may not be any short term solutions, since both the ATU and Equity PAC seem firm in their positions. However, what if both agreed to sit down and discuss some long term strategies about building a more powerful grassroots movement that can demand and win on issue after issue?

Of course, this not only applies to the ATU and Equity PAC, but to a whole host of groups that claim to be for social justice – racial, economic, gender, environmental, immigrant, LGBTQ and disability justice.

However, let’s keep the issue focused on the local transit system, in order to use a current dynamic with groups that are fighting for equity and justice.

According to The Rapid, their budget for 2017 was $87,899,101. Besides rider fees and grants, the transit system needs other sources of funding to maintain the current services. Having people vote on a transit millage every so many years on one level makes sense, but what if we used our political imagination and thought about funding in a much more expansive and radically just way.

The question isn’t whether or not there is enough funding available for efficient mass transit systems, it is a question of priorities. For instance, the US military budget annually is the largest in the world and contributes to a whole range of injustices – such as bombing people, the use of drone warfare, direct military intervention and maintaining nearly 1,000 US military bases across the globe. What if some of the military funding that left Grand Rapids (in the form of tax dollars) was used to fund the existing mass transit system and to expand it?

According to the National Priorities Project, $264.72 million in taxes leaves Grand Rapids every year to fund US militarism. This amount is roughly three times the amount of funding needed for The Rapid on an annual basis. However, The Rapid operates in several other communities outside of GR. Therefore, if we looked at the amount of tax money that goes to the Pentagon each year from Kent County, that total would be $958.16 million. This amount is 10 times what the annual budget of The Rapid.

So what would it take to get people organized to fight for this type of economic conversion?

First, we would need to get together labor groups, groups focused on equity, environmental groups, disability groups, groups calling for racial justice, immigrant justice, queer justice and climate justice. Second, a platform would need to be created that all the groups could agree upon, which would provide a framework for how to organize. This is what some of us call Points of Unity, which provides some vision and accountability for the work ahead.

So lets say that people recognize that US militarism contributes directly to white supremacy, gender violence, environmental destruction, climate change, refugees, etc. We would see that people experiencing poverty, which are disproportionately black and brown communities, are targeted by military recruiters. We would see that most of the fossil fuels that are being extracted in North America, which fuels the US military, is being extracted from Indigenous lands and/or the pipelines runs through Indigenous lands. This recognition would allow each of the groups involved to make it clear that it was in the best interest of their constituents to support such an effort, but more importantly it would facilitate the possibility that we reorient our struggles around fighting settler colonialism, colonialism and white supremacy.

Third, an educational campaign would need to be developed, along with strategies using direct action. However, we must not limit ourselves to electoral strategies, since they have proven to be rather ineffective. We need strategies that builds grassroots and autonomous power for the long term. The Movement for Black Lives provides an important model.

Fourth, those involved in such a movement would agree that we support each other’s struggles and recognize that it is the economic and political system, which are the real problem, not each other. One thing we need to do in movement building is spend way more energy on directing our rage at the systems of power and oppression than we do on other people with whom we probably have more in common with than we think.

Fifth, such a movement also facilitates that we do not operate in silos and are always thinking about how issues are connected. More importantly, it means that those involved in such movement building are spending more time together, which means we would be developing healthier long-term relationships with people doing the hard work of organizing. In the feminist relational organizing model, developing relationships is equally important to whatever work we are doing, since we ultimately need to trust and nurture each other over the long haul. 

These dynamics are counter to how we organize now, which is short-term, fighting for the same funding sources, in our silos focused on single issues and spending more time arguing with each other than fighting the systems of oppression, which are the real culprits.

There are lots of other ways to think about how we can organize for collective liberation and dismantle systems of oppression, but it is paramount that we think differently about how to achieve those goals and to operate outside of a business as usual model that so many progressive and grassroots groups tend to mimic.

Michigan Senate passes bill to allow Charter Schools to use money raised from property tax: DeVos money supported Senators who co-sponsored legislation

October 26, 2017

Last week, SB 0574 was passed by the Michigan Senate, which would allow Charter Schools to receive funding from property tax money raised in school districts. An analysis of the bill states:

One key to attracting families and businesses to Michigan is building strong school systems. Strengthening Michigan’s schools will bolster the State’s future workforce and help develop a strong talent pipeline within the State. Charter schools are a growing part of the educational system in Michigan and contribute to the strength of its communities by providing students with many unique educational opportunities that traditional public schools cannot reproduce.

Another section in the analysis looks specifically at the Kent Intermediate School District, and states:

In Kent Intermediate School District, for example, more than 14,000 students attend public school academies. A recent millage placed before the voters in that ISD will generate approximately $20.0 million over the next 10 years for schools there. If the bill had already been enacted, it could have allowed all students in Kent ISD, rather than just those who attend traditional public schools, to benefit from that money.

Senator Dave Hildenbrand, who introduced the bill was quoted in the Detroit News as saying, 

I introduced this bill because there’s over 14,000 public school students in Kent County that are not being treated fairly. They’re not receiving the same resources as other public school students in our county.

The other Senator co-sponsors of this bill were Senator’s Phil Pavlov, Pat Colbeck, Mike Shirkey, Peter MacGregor and Mike Kowall. Together with Sen. Hildenbrand, they have been the recipients of money from West Michigan’s wealthiest families, including the DeVos Family, the Meijer Family and John Kennedy. (Source: Michigan Campaign Finance Network http://mcfn.org/donor-tracking)

So, on the day before that US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appeared in Grand Rapids at the Acton Institute gala, the Michigan Senate passing legislation that fits in perfectly with what Betsy DeVos has been lobbying for over the past two decades, the use of public money for charter schools. 

A powerful display of solidarity: Union workers and immigrants came out to support each other’s struggles at the GR City Commission meeting last night

October 25, 2017

Last night, at the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, roughly 60 different people shared a simple message that was repeated throughout the public comment period, “Workers Rights are Immigrant Rights.”

There were some people who addressed issues around affordable housing and the AmplifyGR proposed development project, which are also urgent and impactful matters. However, what most people came to share last night focused on two intersecting issues.

First, the Grand Rapids branch of the Amalgamate Transit Union (ATU), which has been without a contract for some 2 years, came to push the city officials to get a fair contract signed. The ATU gathered outside of city hall prior to the event and held a small rally, which you can see in the video here.

Another important aspect about the gathering outside, was that ATU members shared with the crowd that their local is in support of immigrant rights and what groups like Movimiento Cosecha were calling for with a policy that made it clear that no city employee, especially police officers, would ever ask people what their immigrant status was. The ATU posted this statement saying:

We also ask that briefly during your public comment that you say something like, “I support an official written, Equal Service Policy that will affirm the City’s commitment to not ask about immigration status to help protect members of our immigrant community in Grand Rapids.”

Most of the City Commission meeting lasted about 45 minutes, which was mostly a formality of adopting what the committee of the whole adopted in the morning. It was during the public comment, when people articulated their solidarity for immigrant rights and worker rights.

As soon as public comment began, dozens of people stood up to stand in line for a chance to address the commissioners. There were people from many walks of life that spoke. Several high school students addressed the commission. Riley Wilson stated that it was essential for the city to adopt a fair contract for the Rapid bus drivers and that the city needed to adopt a policy to make sure that immigrants were not being targeted by city employees, especially police officers.

An immigrant women named Angelica, who spoke through a translator, came to tears as she spoke about the immigrant families who come into her store and share their fears of being deported and not feeling safe.

Lorena, who is a Latina immigrant and has her masters degree, worries about being pulled over and asked about her immigration status. She works with students and said that some of the students are afraid and don’t come to class.

Johana works at Burton Elementary School. She said that parents and students are afraid to come to meetings. “When parents are scared the kids don’t come to school and they are not learning.” 

A minister, who identified as Latino, said that many of his neighbors are immigrants who have expressed to him that they live in constant fear. “It is vitally important to have a policy where immigrants will not be asked about their status.”

Sergio, who came to the US as a boy with his parents, shared a bit of his story. He said that his parents came without documentation and were deported, leaving him there traumatized after having witnessed this forced separation. He said, “people did not stand up for me and my family, so I ask the commissioners to pass a policy that will guarantee that city employees will not ask people what their immigration status is.

Each of these immigrants, or those in solidarity with immigrants, also stated their support for the ATU and for a fair contract to be signed as soon as possible.

There were people who are educators that spoke in favor of both the ATU contract and the Equal Service policy that would provide some protections for immigrants. University students who share the same message and several people who talked about coming from union families who showed solidarity for both the bus drivers contract and the Equal Service policy.

One man who runs a food pantry in the southeast part of the city said that he has seen a 10% increase in people needing food assistance. He said it seemed as if there was a race to the bottom for a lot of people. “I support the bus drivers union and their desire to get a fair contract and immigrants who should not have to live in fear when interacting with city employees. Get a policy signed and take a stand for a fair contract.”

For over two hours, people spoke passionately and implored city officials to make sure a fair contract was signed with the bus driver’s union and to adopt a policy of Equal Service so that immigrants do not have to be asked about their status. Those who spoke made it clear that such actions needed to take place NOW!